Here’s something I learned: a little Lemony Snicket and a couple Xanax can get you through a bumpy flight like hands-in-the-air-don’t-care. I am not the best flyer, so I had been saving this third installment in my beloved All the Wrong Questions series for my flight to North Carolina for my future sister-in-law’s bachelorette party. When I ended up reading it on the way back, I barely cared that the Chicago wind was tossing our plane around as we came in for a landing. My fellow passengers literally applauded when the plane touched down and I was thinking, “Wait, I’m almost done! Just 20 more pages!” (Although, that was not the worst turbulence I’ve ever felt, so there’s that. And I highly recommend the Xanax.)
Shouldn’t You Be in School? (Lemony Snicket, 2014) follows our intrepid narrator in his continuing efforts to uncover the plans of the nefarious villain Hangfire. In this part (read my reviews of parts one and two), Snicket and his chaperone, S. Theodora Markson, are hired to investigate a case of arson, a case that, as usual, puts Snicket’s investigative skills to the test and leaves his friends in peril.
As the title suggests, the story focuses on school. Stain’d Secondary School has been burned down, all of the children are moved to Wade Academy, and there’s something suspicious going on with the Department of Education and the Department of Truancy, the latter of which comes for Snicket and his friends. With Moxie Mallahan, Cleo Knight, and Jake Hix in the hands of the Department of Truancy, Snicket comes to his friends’ rescue, only to be knocked unconscious. To his surprise he wakes up in the bed of a familiar face – Ellington Feint. Ellington is still in search of her father and using the Bombinating Beast as currency. She agrees to go along with Snicket’s plan to stop yet another arson, only to be arrested again for the attempted arson and have Hangfire go free. The book ends on a somber note – Snicket has gone against his chaperone’s wishes and is operating unsupervised, realizing that, with no one to help him, he will have to help himself.
Little by little we’re getting pieces of Lemony Snicket’s story. He speaks again of his sister Kit, who is in jail for breaking into a museum, Aunt Josephine, one of the Baudelaire siblings’ guardians, and the name Olaf makes a brief cameo. In a moment of supposed modesty, Snicket hesitates to remove his shoes and socks in front of Ellington, only to do so and reveal the eye tattoo on his ankle, which we know to be an identifying marker of all in VFD. And speaking of VFD, Snicket discloses its meaning as Volunteer Fire Department, although we know it as something else from the Series of Unfortunate Events books. I’m curious to see how the disparate meanings come together.
I continue to adore Lemony Snicket and this book is another great addition to his oeuvre. I’m not entirely confident that everything will come together in the fourth book – I’m certain I’ll be no more informed about the schism that rocked VFD or how Kit and Olaf came together or how these new characters fit into the Baudelaires’ story – but this lack of cohesion didn’t stop me from loving ASUE and I doubt it’ll stop me from loving this. Snicket’s stories are everything I loved about reading when I was young and everything I continue to love reading today.